CANTON: The players on the Twinsburg bench often chant “D up!” while their teammates are on the floor.
The Tigers took heed to that sentiment during Tuesday night’s 68-37 Division I regional semifinal victory over Middleburg Heights Midpark at the Canton Memorial Civic Center.
Twinsburg’s defense was relentless, forcing 27 turnovers in the game, including 16 in the first half.
After falling behind 16-2 against Hudson in Saturday’s district final, the Tigers (27-0) made it a point to get off to a strong start against the Meteors.
“It makes things flow better when you’re not playing from behind,” Twinsburg coach Julie Solis said. “It allows us to do more things offensively and reach a little deeper into our bench.”
The Tigers led only 15-13 after the first quarter, but their defense held the Meteors (20-6) to only six second-quarter points, and their lead grew to 37-19 by the half.
Junior guard Baleigh Reid scored the first seven points of a 16-2 run to start the second quarter. On four consecutive possessions, steals by either Reid or junior guard Brooke Smith led to easy layups.
“Our focus and concentration is based upon our defense,” Solis said. “We’re better in transition than we are in half-court. Obviously getting steals and easy layups helps.”
After the steals and easy baskets gave Twinsburg a double-digit lead, the Tigers went on to extend their winning streak to 41 games and make it 71 wins in a row against Ohio teams.
“We started to panic a little bit,” Midpark coach Tom Thompson said. “We got out of the things we do well. They made adjustments and their talent really emerged. That ultimately was the difference.”
Despite the 31-point victory, Solis wasn’t entirely pleased with her team’s effort. When 6-foot-2 senior center Char-dell Dunnigan was sent to the bench with three fouls in the second quarter, the Tigers had trouble containing Midpark’s 6-3 junior center Stasha Carey on the glass.
“We gave up nine offensive rebounds in the first half,” Solis said. “I don’t like giving up offensive rebounds. We didn’t get much better at it in the second half either.”
Carey finished with 13 rebounds and the Meteors outrebounded the Tigers 27-26.
“These tournament situations can get the players kind of tight,” Solis said. “I was trying to get them to focus on loosening up and doing their thing.”
Senior guard and Purdue recruit Ashley Morrissette led the Tigers as she has so often this season, leading all scorers with 24 points to go along with seven steals, four rebounds and two blocks.
“Ashley is a great basketball player,” Solis said. “But when she picks up her intensity she can be an amazing basketball player. That’s what I’m hoping I can see Friday.”
Twinsburg will play Solon in a regional final at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Civic Center. The Tigers played the Comets twice this season, winning 57-37 and 54-48.
“It’s never easy to beat a team three times,” Solis said. “I hope our kids understand that it’s either go to the dance [state tournament] or stay home. And if I got a chance to go to the dance, I’d give everything I had to go.”
Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps.